A CITY UNITED IN GRIEF

Vic­tims were ‘pre­dom­i­nately’ women

Edmonton Journal - - NP - Tom Black­well

TORONTO • As the head of Toronto’s po­lice union stood at the scene of Mon­day’s deadly van at­tack, a woman’s dead body ly­ing nearby, he kept hear­ing a cell­phone ring.

Mike McCor­mack thought it was an of­fi­cer’s phone, and won­dered why his col­league didn’t an­swer. McCor­mack was soon set straight.

“He said ‘Mike, it’s not mine,’” the Toronto Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion pres­i­dent re­called in an in­ter­view Tues­day. “It was the victim’s phone, and ob­vi­ously it was their fam­ily or their loved ones call­ing to check on them, and they weren’t an­swer­ing ... It was very sur­real.”

On the dead pedes­trian’s mo­bile, he said, the caller’s iden­tity read sim­ply “Mom.”

Such were the sto­ries Toronto grap­pled with Tues­day, the day af­ter a bizarre and grue­some mass homi­cide on a sunny spring af­ter­noon. In a mat­ter of min­utes, a rental van slalomed down a busy stretch of the city’s most fa­mous street, de­lib­er­ately mow­ing down two dozen pedes­tri­ans.

Alek Mi­nas­sian, the van’s al­leged driver, ap­peared in court briefly Tues­day, charged with 10 counts of first-de­gree mur­der. Mo­ments be­fore the at­tack, po­lice al­lege, he had posted a mes­sage on Face­book that seemed to voice sup­port for a strange move­ment of men who feel re­jected by the op­po­site sex.

The vic­tims of the ram­page along Yonge Street — 10 dead and 14 hurt — were “pre­dom­i­nately” women, aged from their mid-20s to their 80s, po­lice said.

The may­hem un­folded in a rel­a­tive flash — seven min­utes from the first emer­gency call to the driver’s ar­rest, said Toronto Po­lice Chief Mark Saun­ders Tues­day.

Mi­nas­sian ap­peared in court wear­ing a white prison jump­suit, as the city tried to come to grips with a mass homi­cide that seemed par­tic­u­larly sense­less.

The method mim­icked a string of ve­hi­cle-pedes­trian at­tacks in Europe and North Amer­ica by lone-wolf ter­ror­ists, yet the mo­tive re­mained murky. Per­sonal demons or psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tur­bance seemed a more likely ex­pla­na­tion than any rad­i­cal ide­ol­ogy.

On Par­lia­ment Hill Tues­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau echoed state­ments by other politi­cians that there did not ap­pear to be a “na­tional se­cu­rity” el­e­ment to the at­tack.

Po­lice say they have not ruled out any mo­tive, but Det.-Sgt. Gra­ham Gib­son, lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said of­fi­cers were look­ing into a “cryp­tic” Face­book mes­sage, posted “min­utes” be­fore the ram­page be­gan.

It in­di­cated sym­pa­thy for the “in­cel” – or in­vol­un­tary celibacy — move­ment of men up­set at their lack of sex­ual ac­tiv­ity. It also al­luded to a Cal­i­for­nia man who shot and killed six women and in­jured 14 in 2014, leav­ing be­hind a man­i­festo that com­plained about his lack of sex­ual suc­cess.

Mi­nas­sian also spent two months in the Cana­dian Forces last year, be­fore drop­ping out of re­cruit train­ing, a mil­i­tary spokes­woman said.

As the mys­tery of what trig­gered the at­tack con­tin­ued, the city em­braced the mod­ern trend of pop­u­la­tion-level grief. Hun­dreds of peo­ple made emo­tional pil­grim­ages to a makeshift memo­rial near the crime scene, and var­i­ous fundrais­ing cam­paigns were launched for vic­tims and their fam­i­lies.

“We’re deal­ing here with a city that is in mourn­ing,” said Mayor John Tory Tues­day. “But we’re strong and we’re re­silient and we’re, I think, show­ing the world how Toronto re­sponds in times like th­ese.”

At the same mo­ment, though, clo­sure was still not pos­si­ble for many of those hard­est hit by the tragic as­sault. Be­cause of the large num­ber of si­mul­ta­ne­ous deaths and the se­vere in­juries, the coroner’s of­fice is re­quir­ing more than just vis­ual iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the dead — and has not of­fi­cially con­firmed any names, said Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer Tues­day.

They are in­stead us­ing “sci­en­tific” meth­ods such as den­tal records to be ab­so­lutely sure, and that could take days, he said.

“It’s very chal­leng­ing, I will say,” Huyer told a news con­fer­ence. “Be­cause there are many in the pub­lic, many in the com­mu­nity, many fam­i­lies who will want us to con­firm. (But) we’re very care­ful about that.”

With duty coun­sel Ge­or­gia Koulis at his side, Mi­nas­sian made a brief ap­pear­ance be­fore Jus­tice of the Peace Stephen Wais­berg on the mur­der charges, and will re­turn to court next month to face 13 counts of at­tempted mur­der.

The ac­cused, head shaved and with a day or two of stub­ble, spoke his name and said ‘Yes,’ when asked if he un­der­stood the pro­ceed­ings, speak­ing in a clipped, al­most mil­i­tary tone.

Wais­berg also or­dered Mi­nas­sian, who lives in Rich­mond Hill, north of Toronto, specif­i­cally to avoid con­tact with the at­tempted-mur­der vic­tims.

An older man be­lieved to be the al­leged killer’s fa­ther was in court and on the verge of tears, helped by an of­fi­cial and talked to by the de­fence lawyer.

A throng of me­dia sur­rounded the man as po­lice es­corted him to this car, but he said noth­ing as ques­tions were flung his way.

Po­lice al­lege Mi­nas­sian rented a panel van Mon­day morn­ing and just af­ter 1 p.m. be­gan a lethal spree down Yonge Street, through the down­town heart of sub­ur­ban North York.

The mass as­sault down a street crowded with pedes­tri­ans left many types of vic­tims.

Saun­ders said po­lice have opened a hot­line for peo­ple who wit­nessed the ram­page or its bloody af­ter­math and need coun­selling.

“It is a ser­vice that will be pro­vided for free,” said the po­lice chief. “I don’t want peo­ple walk­ing away think­ing, ‘I need help, but I can’t af­ford it.’ Or ‘I need help but I wasn’t part of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion.’ ”

Amir Farokh­pour, 28, who wit­nessed a mid­dle-aged man be­ing hit by the van and flung through the air — then tried in vain to help the pedes­trian as he died — in­ter­rupted an in­ter­view with the Na­tional Post Mon­day, say­ing he felt sick to his stom­ach.

When the con­ver­sa­tion re­sumed later, Farokh­pour said the shock of the scene had left him tem­po­rar­ily un­able to feel his legs.

Henry Yang told the Post he saw peo­ple whose lower bod­ies were man­gled, bloody messes, and a man with his brain “opened up.”

Faraz, a real-es­tate of­fice worker who asked that his last name not be pub­lished, said he can­celled all his ap­point­ments and even a visit with his fa­ther Mon­day, he was so dis­tressed by what he saw. He came upon the scene just af­ter it hap­pened, wit­ness­ing a string of bod­ies as he walked, then drove up Yonge Street.

“When I was look­ing at them, I thought they had been shot,” Faraz said in an in­ter­view. “All of them had head in­juries and they weren’t mov­ing at all.”

Many of the po­lice of­fi­cers who at­tended the scene — and even 911 op­er­a­tors who took calls about it — were also trau­ma­tized, said McCor­mack, the po­lice union pres­i­dent.

In Ot­tawa, Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau gave con­do­lences to the victim’s fam­i­lies, thanked the first re­spon­ders, and called it “a sense­less at­tack and a horrific tragedy.”

“All Cana­di­ans are with Toronto today,” he said. “We can­not as Cana­di­ans choose to live in fear every sin­gle day as we go about our daily busi­ness. We need to focus on do­ing what we can and we must to keep Cana­di­ans safe, while we stay true to the free­doms and val­ues that we all as Cana­di­ans hold dear.”

At the On­tario leg­is­la­ture, mem­bers of all three provin­cial par­ties held a mo­ment of si­lence.

“We have to en­sure that this kind of sense­less act doesn’t de­fine us,” said Premier Kath­leen Wynne.

Doug Ford, the op­po­si­tion Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader, said “our hearts break for the vic­tims, their fam­i­lies.”

Queen El­iz­a­beth and Prince Philip re­leased a state­ment through the gover­nor gen­eral’s of­fice, voic­ing their sad­ness at the “ter­ri­ble” events.

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